Philosophers of social science have identified description, explanation, and evaluation as three distinct ways of assessing any historical phenomenon. If this triad is applied to Ellen Schrecker’s study of McCarthyism and American higher education, she earns high if not quite the highest marks for description, a solidly acceptable grade for overall evaluation, but not much more than a pass for explanation. She is excellent in telling us what happened, and her judgment that the whole experience was pointless and demeaning is scarcely open to doubt. She does not, however, do justice to the political and historical context of the late 1940s
and early 1950s when unprecedented and neversince-repeated official investigations of the political beliefs and associations of teachers took place at a time of national concern over the alleged infiltration of American society by Communists.
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